Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Visit to the Keystone State

Frank writes...

This past weekend my job took me to central Pennsylvania, to the Harrisburg region and a bit east of there to Lebanon, PA. And what's in Mount Hope, not terribly far from the Lebanon exit off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

Philadelphia Transportation Company 8530 is a Peter Witt built in 1926 and retired in 1958. Since the latter year it has been in private ownership and for the last few decades, at least, it has been stored on private land (visible from the road, where the above photo was taken) on a section of track perhaps 300' long underneath a nice wooden shelter. The car appears to be in very nice shape and rumor has it that it may even be operational, though that overhead isn't quite up to Randy Anderson standards.
Saturday evening I was off work at 4:30 and even though it was snowing lightly I headed over to Middletown to the Middletown & Hummelstown. I got there just before their last Santa Train of the evening departed at about 5pm.
The train consisted of three Lackawanna MU cars pulled by a 44-tonner. I suppose these cars are pretty well suited to this use, what with their high capacity seating and electric heat. The train was apparently sold out.
The Middletown depot is pretty nice and they have an enviable platform setup, shown above, for boarding the train. I'm not sure of the depot's history but it's a nice old brick depot right near downtown Middletown. The owner of the M&H has a varied collection of traction equipment in various stages of repair on the property but between the snow and the lack of M&H people around (they were busy with the train) I wasn't going to try wandering around the yard. Most of the electric collection that's in good shape is inside their relatively new storage barn.

After that, it was off for a quick dinner and then a journey about an hour and a half west - past the snow, which stopped at the Susquehanna River - to Orbisonia.
I met Joel Salomon, who I think I had last seen about 13 or 14 years ago, at about 8:00pm as the Rockhill Trolley Museum's Christmas event was starting to wind down. Above, Johnstown Traction 355, which was completely restored by RTM about ten years ago, pulls into the platform. RTM was doing a brisk business, with several hundred riders per night, using three streetcars running constantly for several hours starting at nightfall.
Here's another view of the 355 at the platform. The car was built by St. Louis in 1925; very similar cars ran in Evanston. The RTM property was decorated with plenty of lights, as shown, and there were a multitude of lit-up displays - various plastic and inflatable Christmas- and winter-themed illuminated pieces - that were spread out along the right-of-way for quite a distance. The amount of work that went into all of this must have been tremendous. During each trip the car lights were turned off, holiday music was played from a boombox, and the riders enjoyed the holiday light show out the windows. Joel and I went for a ride on the 355 and it was pretty neat to see how another museum does its holiday event.
But I have to admit that the main attraction, for me, was seeing the 315. Joel and Keith Bray, who as luck would have it happened to be there, showed me all of the work going into the car. The 315 is the "missing link" in IRM's collection: of the classes of CA&E cars in preservation we have at least one of each distinct series (if you consider the shorties to all be one type) except for the 311-315 series Kuhlmans. The only Kuhlman in preservation is shown here, in the RTM workshop, in the middle of a major multi-year restoration project to return it to its original condition. Note that the arched windows have been cut back in and the car has a fairly fresh coat of Pullman green linseed oil paint on it.
At the moment, attention has turned to the car's interior. Here Keith points out some of the gold leaf ceiling detailing that was recently uncovered. The detailing is remarkably complex and includes both dark green and gold leaf designs. The Kuhlmans were the last CA&E (okay, AE&C) wood cars that had mainly Victorian design elements; the Jewetts, the next series ordered in 1913, featured a more Prairie School aesthetic on their interiors.
Keith, Joel, and the RTM restoration crew are putting a great deal of work into figuring out exactly how the 315 looked when it was new and returning it to that appearance. Here they discovered an intricate design on the end bulkhead over the door to the platform. The plan is to replicate all of this correctly in gold leaf; the reason Keith was at the museum when I visited was to meet with a gold leaf expert, who using an array of samples for comparison determined that the car's ceiling had used 22-karat leaf. Who knew?
I say yes, you say no...
Apparently as built the Kuhlmans had the body interior car numbers at car card level rather than over the doors to the platforms, as was later Wheaton practice. Pretty interesting. The veneer on the back of the electrical cabinet was replaced at some point during the car's service life but new veneer will be applied using correct mahogany. There's actually a bunch of veneer replacement that will be necessary in the smoker on this car due to damage of various sorts; the paint was only stripped off a few months ago so this work is int he preliminary stages. The RTM guys are also working on replicating various interior fittings like clerestory window hinges and latches, coat hooks (yes, these cars had coat hooks on the window piers originally), and ventilator rods. IRM will be working with RTM on some of this work in areas where we may be able to help each other.
By this time the Christmas event had ended (the last trip was at about 9pm) so some of the volunteers gathered around left on Johnstown Traction 311 for the "lights out" trip to turn off all of the light displays spread out along the right-of-way. JT 311 is a double-truck Birney originally built by Wason in 1922 for Bangor, Maine. It is the most recently-completed restoration at RTM, with a complete frame-up rebuild having been completed only a year or two ago. Joel was changing ends when I snapped this photo while Keith is in the left foreground.
Here's the Johnstown car at the end of the trip, about ready to pull into the car barn. Neat fender.
And here's the car barn. Straight ahead is York Railways 163, which is a pretty unique car. It was built by Brill in 1924 as a curve-sider. Brill briefly constructed curve-side cars to compete with Cincinnati, but I think they may have been sued (or else they just weren't very successful). Other than a handful of cars built for York the only Brill curve-siders I can think of were some single-truckers built for Zanesville, Ohio. Regardless, car 163 was acquired by RTM as a body and completely restored in the 1980s and 1990s. To the left is car 205 from the Philadelphia & Western, the only "Bullet car" still in operating condition, and to the left of that is a line of East Broad Top cars. This particular barn, along with the RTM shop, sits inside the Rockhill wye of the EBT and half of this building is given over to narrow gauge equipment storage. RTM also has its own barn just a few hundred feet away alongside the right-of-way and most of their collection is stored there. Unfortunately I didn't get to tour that barn this time. I guess I'll just have to go back. Many thanks to Joel and the other RTM volunteers for showing me around!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Holiday Greetings from California

One of our hard-working California correspondents, Tony Gura, sends us warm wishes from sunny California.   While in Chicago this past week, he took these pictures of the CTA Holiday Train.   This is, of course, not a substitute for our own Happy Holiday Railway, but if you're stuck in the city on a weekday, it's the only such thing available.

And then he adds:  My dad's Christmas trains are slightly smaller, having been declared the "world's smallest under the Christmas tree O Gauge layout".  Have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Our new favorite movie star

I was sent this link to some publicity stills from the production company that was out at IRM a week and a half ago filming scenes for The Letter. The movie is set in the 1920s and features the 309, with the 308 and 319 also visible in some photos. The Oscar buzz for "Best Self-Propelled Passenger Equipment in a Starring Role" has already begun. Enjoy! (The photos are on Facebook but you do not need a Facebook account to view them; just click "not now" when the prompt pops up.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

News of the World

...or at least News of IRM. To sign up to receive these official e-mail newsletters from IRM click here.

Happy Holiday Railway Now Running
Start a new family tradition this year and take a magical train ride with Santa at the Illinois Railway Museum! Tickets are now on sale and trips are selling out quickly, so make sure to reserve your seat today. There's a lot more news in East Union as well:
  • Tickets for Happy Holiday Railway are now on sale on our website
  • Rock Island GP7R 4506 painting project nearly completed
  • Historic "wagontop" boxcar restoration completed by the Freight Car Department 
  • Do you buy on Amazon? If so, you can support IRM with just the click of a button 
  • The museum has a new entrance for the first time in half a century
  • Memberships for 2018 are now on sale
  • Restoration work on Union Pacific 2-8-0 428 moves ahead
  • 2017 attendance numbers rise
Visit us online for schedules, blog updates, and more

Happy Holiday Railway tickets

Bring the whole family for an unforgettable holiday experience! This event features a magical train ride with Santa, cookies and hot chocolate, gifts, carols, plus train displays and holiday lights. Trains run weekends through December 17th and advance purchase is strongly recommended. Walk-up sales are subject to availability.
Click here for tickets and information

Rock Island 4506 Repainted

Major exterior repainting work on Rock Island GP7R 4506 is completed, with only some touching up and installation of fittings still remaining. The locomotive, which is operational, should make its public debut in the spring as the only preserved locomotive in 1970s "The Rock" blue and white.. For more information visit the Diesel Shop Facebook page.

"Wagontop" Boxcar Restored

The museum's Freight Car Department has turned out another completed restoration project. This one is a rare "wagontop" boxcar from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Extensive welding and exterior work has resulted in a truly stunning showpiece. To find out how you can help with freight car restoration work, click here.

Your Purchases Help IRM

If you shop on Amazon, your purchases can help support IRM's restoration activities. IRM participates in the Amazon Smile program, through which a portion of all your purchases is donated to the museum. There's no cost to you; just select IRM from smile.amazon.com or for a direct link click here. And thank you!

IRM's Entrance Changes

The public entrance to the museum has changed for the first time in some 50 years. Starting in late November, the main public entrance has moved to the southeast corner of the parking lot, at the historic Schroeder Mercantile Store. This building from Union has been restored and improved to serve as the museum's entrance and store building. More information is here.

2018 Memberships Now On Sale

One of the best ways you can support IRM and its preservation activities is by becoming a member. You'll get free admission all year, gift shop and bookstore discounts, access to special events for members, and our quarterly news magazine "Rail & Wire." An IRM membership also makes a great gift!
Sign up online to be a part of IRM

Union Pacific 428 Progress

With the onset of winter, work is again advancing on UP 2-8-0 "Consolidation" 428. This long-term restoration project in the Steam Shop is making steady progress, with the cab steel work done, running gear work progressing, and turning the drivers on our Putnam lathe soon to come. With your help this locomotive will be in steam at IRM sooner rather than later.

Attendance Up During 2017

During the 2017 operating season we saw a marked increase in public attendance at the museum. In fact our general admissions numbers - exclusive of special-fare events like Day Out With Thomas and Happy Holiday Railway - were up some 30% over the previous year! If you visited IRM this year, we thank you on behalf of all of the museum's volunteers. The museum's mission is not just to preserve the historic equipment under our care but to educate our visitors about our shared history. Without your support this isn't possible. Thank you to all of our visitors for joining us in Union and keeping us a Museum in Motion!
Visit us online for schedules, blog updates, and more
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Our contact information: PO Box 427, Union, IL 60180 - Phone 815-923-4391 

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Monday, December 4, 2017

A warm day on the Holiday Railway

Frank writes...

I was out at IRM on Sunday myself, though unlike my father I was working in the car shop and not helping with Happy Holiday Railway. Some of this post will duplicate what he observed nevertheless. It was a warm day, with highs in the mid-50s, and as it turned out they were actually running the air conditioning on the bi-levels used for the HHR train.

It was beautiful weather. The boarding area was a North Western fan's dream, with the C&NW F-7 and matching bi-level set loading alongside Barn 9 and across from those the C&NW SD40-2 with the two C&NW C44-9W locomotives behind it. This photo was taken just before trip departure.
When the train arrived from its trips the scene was a little different, with the previous trip's riders disembarking and the following trip's riders queuing up. Hey, that conductor looks familiar.
Over in the Electric Car Shop the priority for the day was replacing the failed air hose under the 309's platform. Greg Kepka (above) has much more experience than I do with this kind of job so he was invaluable in finding a new hose and installing the old ends. Richard Schauer was also dragged in to help when we ran into trouble with the old balky hose clamps.
And here's the final product, ready to go under the car (minus the caps on the ends, which were put in just to test for air leaks). We reused the old hose clamps at one end but at the other we ended up using more modern bands. Anyway, after this I grabbed some wrenches and pipe dope and installed the hose under the car, so the 309 should be back in service - not that it will be needed anytime soon. There were others working in the shop as well; Richard and Doodlebug Bob were working on the controls for one of the metalworking machines while Thomas and Good Nick were rebuilding a door engine for CTA 4410. They managed to get the door working perfectly by the end of the day in an effort that involved cutting various new gaskets and cleaning quite a bit of sludge out of the door engine mechanism. Scott Greig was also out and rebuilt a Knutsen 5B retriever for stock using parts from a couple of non-working retrievers.
I also took the opportunity for a walk around the property before the last HHR trip returned at about 6:45. The big pine tree south of the diner annex is always impressive all lit up.
And speaking of impressive, this was my first gander at the Schroeder Store since it opened. It sure is impressive! It seems like a long time ago that this thing was sitting west of Spaulding Tower, not much more than a large pale yellow eyesore. Dave and his B&G crew have done a spectacular job of resurrecting this structure.
The interior is no less impressive. We're in danger of appearing professional here!
Johnnie and Madison have been instrumental in disassembling the stores in the baggage cars up by the depot and reassembling them in the Schroeder Store. Johnnie is responsible for transferring over all of the computers, point-of-sale equipment and networking equipment, while Madison did quite a bit of the display and arranging work. New sales counters are on order but until they arrive the old counters from the baggage cars by the depot are still in use, as shown.

Speaking of the old baggage cars up by the depot, the venerable E.D. asked me to pass along a public service announcement of sorts: namely that there are no plans currently to scrap any of the four cars next to the depot. While current thinking is that this equipment will be removed from the site next to the depot, at least some and quite possibly all of the four cars will be retained for the museum's collection and/or for use as storage cars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Holidays To You

The good news is that the Happy Holidays Railway trains are running near capacity for most of the trips, everybody seems to be having a good time, and the Museum is entertaining a lot of people of all ages.

The bad news is that the Happy Holidays Railway trains are running near capacity for most of the trips, so I didn't get a chance to take many good pictures.  But you can't have everything.  Most of these don't need captions, I think.

Here we see Bob Opal playing holiday tunes on the keyboard and singing along in the diner.  Bob is a very talented musician who could have made an honest living playing in nightclubs, but chose to become a high-powered lawyer instead.  Go figure.

The Schroeder Store is now open for business, and it's a great improvement over the previous facilities.

I would have liked to get some crew pictures, but we were too busy.   This will have to do instead: